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2020’s Fee-Free Days for the National Park Service

Jan 18, 2020 | Capitol Reef National Park, National Parks | 0 comments

Of the 419 national parks in the U.S., 116 of them charge an entrance fee. While this means that just over a quarter of all parks cost to get into, those 116 parks include many of the country’s most popular ones, including Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Yosemite.

Entrance fees range from just a few dollars per person to up to $30 or more per vehicle. In most cases, the entrance fee gets you access to that park for 7 days. When you consider the amount of fun and adventure a family could get with 7 days to explore a park, an entrance fee of $30 suddenly sounds very reasonable. But for some families, even that small fee can be tough to manage when budgets are tight.

While there are plenty of alternatives, including local parks or national parks that don’t charge an entrance fee, if you want to visit one of Utah’s Mighty 5 or other popular parks, you’re in luck. That’s because in 2020, the National Park Service has designated five days that will be fee-free! Keep reading to learn more.


2020’s Fee-Free Days for the National Park Service

Every year, the National Park Service designates at least a few days when entrance fees for all parks are suspended. In the past, as much as a week’s worth or more days were set aside as fee-free. However, recently this number has been scaled back. 

In 2020, there will be five days when visitors can enter any national park for free. The first is coming up quick; this Monday, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, entrance to all national parks in the country will be free. After that, the next date is April 18, which marks the start of National Park Week. 

August 25 is the birthday of the National Park Service, and is another fee-free day. Just a month later, National Public Lands Day on September 26 is also free.

The last fee-free day of 2020 will come on November 11, Veterans Day.

Visiting Utah’s Mighty 5 the Rest of the Year

If you want to visit some of the country’s most popular national parks on any day besides the five fee-free days, you will need to pay an entrance fee. In fact, of the 10 most-visited national parks, only one, the most-visited, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, doesn’t charge a fee. All five of Utah’s national Parks charge a fee.

Capitol Reef is the least expensive national park in Utah to visit, charging $20 per vehicle or $10 per person to enter the park. 

Utah’s other parks charge the following entrance fees:

  • Arches National Park charges $30 per vehicle or $15 per person.
  • Bryce Canyon National Park charges $35 per vehicle or $20 per person.
  • Canyonlands National Park charges $30 per vehicle or $15 per person.
  • Zion National Park charges $35 per vehicle or $20 per person.

Why National Park Entrance Fees are Necessary

So why do some national parks charge an entrance fee while others don’t? The truth is that the national park fees are incredibly important to all national parks, including those that don’t charge a fee. That’s because while 80 percent of the fee you pay stays in that park, the remaining 20 percent goes towards helping maintain parks that don’t charge.

National parks have a limited number of ways to make money. Aside from entrance fees, many also operate lodges and campgrounds, gift shops, rental services, and other ventures that not only raise money but also enhance the experience of the park’s visitors. National parks that have high operating costs or that see a very high number of visitors charge a fee to help offset costs and keep the park and others running and maintained for future generations.

Other Ways to Visit Capitol Reef for Less

If you want to visit Capitol Reef several times a year without paying the entrance fee every time, you have a couple of options.

The first is the park-specific annual pass. For just $35, you can visit Capitol Reef as often as you’d like for an entire year.

But if you want to visit other national parks during that year, an interagency pass might be a better choice for you. For $80, the America the Beautiful Pass allows entry for one cardholder and up to 3 additional passengers in the same car entry to any national park for free for a year. You’ll also get entry to other federally managed properties, like battlefields, forests, and more. 

Planning Your First Visit of 2020

Thinking about visiting Capitol Reef National Park in 2020? Why not get a jumpstart on the year by visiting the park in winter, when crowds are thinner and seasonal activities abound. Click here to learn why it may just be the best time to visit the park.


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